Famed Sanriku Railway resumes service, partly thanks to Kuwaiti aid

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NnpAWKfX7Qc’]

This was all over the news this cold Saturday morning (temp was down to 13 degrees C inside!). Buried in a few obscure news sources was the fact that part of this remarkable resurrection was due to a massive donation by the government of Kuwait about a year ago (details below).

MIYAKO, Iwate Prefecture–A railway that was thrown out of action by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster will be back to full strength this spring.

Sanriku Railway Co. is to reopen the last two sections of the two lines that have remained out of service. These are the 15-kilometer section between Kamaishi and Yoshihama stations on the South-Rias Line, and the 10.5-km section between Tanohata and Omoto stations on the North-Rias Line. They will reopen on April 5 and 6, respectively.

The Sanriku Railway has 107.6 km of track that traverses scenic coastal routes in Iwate Prefecture.

The lines were badly damaged in the disaster. Station buildings and [5.8 km] sections of [the 108 km] rail track were swept out to sea by the tsunami. The railway was forced to suspend all its train services immediately after the March 11 disaster, but five days later it resumed partial operations free of charge to help lift the spirits of survivors.

via Famed Sanriku Railway soon back to pre-disaster operations – AJW by The Asahi Shimbun.

map of Japan showing Sanriku area (from Wikipedia's Sanriku page)

(from Wikipedia’s Sanriku page)

Nothing in there about Kuwait’s donation, but on the same day, the Japan Times had a article about Fukushima titled “Expressing thanks in Paris, Fukushima officials vow disaster reconstruction” and tucked away right at the end was this:

Sanriku Railway has also purchased five new train cars with financial aid from the government of Kuwait.

How much aid? From a 27 Feb. 2013 article:

Top officials from tsunami-hit city and its railway lines in northeastern Japan have shown their utmost gratitude for Kuwait’s massive donation after a magnitude 9.0-quake and ensuring tsunami in March 2011, and declared that train services will be resumed soon, Kuwaiti Ambassador to Japan Abdulrahman Al-Otaibi said Wednesday.

In their recent meeting in Tokyo with Al-Otabi, Ofunato City Mayor Kimiaki Toda and Sanriku Railway Company President Masahiko Mochizuki expressed appreciation and briefed the ambassador on the latest developments of the railway lines, of which rails and railroad bridges were wrecked by the devastating tsunami.

According to the Japanese officials, three new train cars manufactured with Kuwait’s aid will start serving for the local people in the disaster-struck coastal area in Iwate Prefecture in April. At a side [sic] of the new cars, the messages showing gratitude to the support from Kuwait are written in Japanese, English and Arabic languages, while the national emblem of Kuwait is drawn at the head and the back of the car, they said. Equipped with bigger windows and more comfortable seats than the old carriages as well as barrier free measures, each car costs about USD 1.63 million.

Following the catastrophe that left about 19,000 people dead or missing, Kuwait offered the donation of 5 million barrels of crude oil, equivalent to some USD 500 million, of which value was distributed to the three hardest-hit prefectures including Iwate.

via Japan’s tsunami-hit railway to run new trains with Kuwaiti aid | Mubasher

Why is this Sanriku railway line “famed”? According to the Asahi Shimbun:

The Sanriku Railway was the model for a rail line that appeared in the 2013 Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) drama “Amachan.” The show helped thrust the railway into the national spotlight.

Between April and November 2013, the number of passengers (excluding season ticket users) increased to 210,000, up 60 percent from the same period a year earlier.

“Amachan”, Wikipedia tells us, is a drama that takes place along the Sanriku coast, a famed beauty spot and the location of several national parks. It tells the story of a local 18-year-old girl who abandons her hometown to seek fame and fortune in Tokyo. She returns 24 years later with her daughter, Aki, in tow. Aki suddenly declares she wants to be an “ama” a woman diver, all of whom are over 50.

“Amachan” was an “asadora”, Japanese shorthand for “asa dorama” or morning drama. It was shown on weekday mornings from 8 to 8:15. My wife watched all the episodes and her happy laughter often resounded through the house as she watched it, a testimony to the funny dialogue and clever writing by Kankuro Kudo, who also wrote the screenplay for a powerful drama about Japan-born Koreans called “Go”, which I warmly recommend.

The drama not only shone a spotlight on the tsunami-hit Sanriku area but also raised awareness of its predicament and brought much needed financial aid and investment to the region. The drama itself was a huge ratings success, “earning an average 20.6% rating over the span of the series”, and was called a social phenomenon, due to the role of social media in spreading news about the series and to the fact that a  local expression used in the drama was voted one of the 4 words of the year in 2013.

You can see all the episodes of “Amachan” with English subtitles here: http://www.drama.net/amachan  The series was also broadcast in Thailand and Taiwan.

The Sanriku railway played a prominent role in the drama and the toy-like single engine car was shown in the opening credits sequence, to the accompaniment of a jolly brass-band. The Sanriku railway company came up with lots of innovative ideas to appeal to customers and raise money. You can see a few of those ideas, plus the trains and scenery, in the short video above. And here’s the soundtrack of the opening theme: [yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMDN8e3AzGU’]


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